I’m an Adult Now

What I thought adult life would be like:

Art gallery openings! (Photo: wag.ca - Winnipeg Art Gallery)

Art gallery openings! (Photo: wag.ca – Winnipeg Art Gallery)

What real adult life is like:

Working as a librarian! (Photo: library.escondido.org)

Working as a librarian! (Photo: library.escondido.org)

Not at all a bad trade-off!

When I turned 18, I could vote and attend R-rated movies. When I turned 19, I could sign a legally binding contract, go to night clubs, and drink alcohol. When I was 25 I could rent a car!

Obviously we don’t need a mortgage or a child to prove we’re adults. What made you feel you were finally grown up, or that you had “made it” as an adult?

I lived at my parents’ home throughout university – for two degrees – and didn’t live on my own until I was 23. (Most kids in Canada don’t “go away” to college.) So when I left home, moved across the country for my first full-time job, moved in with my boyfriend and signed a lease, you would think I felt grown-up. To the contrary, I felt like I was play-acting. I was youthful-looking and most people assumed I was a teenager. I didn’t appreciate that until I was over 30! In my job, I was the newbie. Because of my qualifications, I thought I knew everything, and it took me two years to develop some humility. During those two years, I felt grown up when I got my first credit card, but I felt like a child when I spent myself into debt and had to ask my family for a bailout.

Well, there is nothing like an early divorce to make one feel grown-up. Despite having received a promotion at work, it was my first taste of adult failure. It made me feel separate from my peers, many of whom were just setting up households or getting married. Yet in a way, I got let off the hook. Not having children or pension plans yet, I had a clean break, except for paying off that dreaded credit card by myself, which I considered the price of freedom.

After that I followed the usual trajectory of (re)marriage, buying a house, and having a child, with a management job thrown into the mix. I was the junior manager at work, and was even seen as a young parent, which gave me a laugh because I was almost 30 then! I suppose those were the days when one’s adolescence didn’t yet last to age 29 as it so often does now (sorry, younger readers, I don’t mean you!)

I realized I was juggling work, home, a child, and finances with some level of competence. I no longer depended on anyone for bailouts, and I was even able to be helpful to others at times. My relationship with my parents developed a more even footing, and I occasionally spent time on community efforts or professional associations. So yes, I was an adult now!

Two things had the biggest impact:

Failure. Making great big grown up mistakes and living with the consequences.

Competence over time. On the “fake it till you make it” plan. Repeatedly taking on adult responsibilities and gradually growing into them until they felt comfortable – sometimes years later.

Teens look forward to being adults because of the independence, and dread it because of the responsibility. They are right, but what they can’t see are the rewards of assuming that responsibility. They think it will be a crushing burden. Occasionally it is. But the joys of managing your own life and accepting the outcome are also great! It’s just like being a two-year-old and saying, “I did it all by myself!” Of course, you also gain the wisdom to know you’ve never done anything completely by yourself. The web of supportive people in your life share the credit: your partner and parents and supervisor and mentor and BFFs.

Here is my list of what made me feel most grown up:

  • Driving my own car
  • Making decisions around sexuality and contraception as a teenager
  • Applying to and attending university
  • Paying off debt
  • Saving money for a goal
  • Qualifying for a mortgage
  • Being a supervisor
  • Hiring childcare
  • Being strict with child “for their own good”
  • Giving up a good job to follow partner’s career
  • Loving my in-laws
  • Being the executor of an estate
  • Causing a fender-bender and dealing with insurance
  • Having a pet “put down”
  • Going to principal’s office to discuss naughty child
  • Moving back to my hometown
  • Finding love again at age 44
  • Publicly advocating for my trans* child

I often feel bad for Link who is almost 21. What a difficult time of life! I would not be 21 again for all the money in the world.

Being 50 rocks!

To put you in the right frame of mind, Canadian readers of a certain age might remember this song:

35 comments

  1. Mel

    Yup. I remember TPOH very well!!

  2. EcoCatLady

    I’m not entirely sure when I started to feel like I was “grown up”. Maybe it was buying my house – at age 24. Maybe it was the first time I filed a schedule C (self-employment income, something neither of my parents ever did.)

    But one thing I can say for sure is that life got a helluva lot easier for me once I realized that I was actually an adult. It was like suddenly all the pressure was off and I was only responsible for myself, rather than constantly trying to both cover up and make up for all of my parents’ shortcomings.

  3. I feel like an adult a lot of the time (at the grand old age of 27) with the having a job and looking after the house stuff…and the needing it early nights!

    But then I see friends having babies and so on, and I think ‘aaaaaargh I am sooo not grown up enough for that!’

    Maybe being grown up is when you realise that you do the sensible things your parents

  4. todadwithlove

    Definitely when I left home for university 15 years ago, and when I bought my own home. Still, I sometimes feel like a child when I’m with mum.

  5. Lisa

    Yep, I remember the song well 🙂

    Funny, when I read, “most kids in Canada don’t “go away” to college”, I thought, well in Ontario they do, but maybe a lot don’t anymore with all the satellite campuses popping up. In my era and location, in order to go to university/college, you had to “go away”, usually still within the province, but generally 2-3 hours away from home. I suppose it is the cities where kids mostly stick to the college close to them.

    As for becoming an adult, I did leave for university at 19 (Ontario still had 5 years of high school then), but around this time my mother also started to act ‘strange’. I spent most of my life worrying about my mom (long story). When I was 28 years old, my mom was finally diagnosed with early-onset dementia. My 30s were largely spent in a role-reversal situation, with me taking care of her and making decisions for her. I didn’t have the ‘naughty child’ and the principal’s office, but I did get calls from the nursing home about my mom’s behaviours. :S

  6. Why the separation between 18 and 19? Why if you can vote and watch R rated movies, do you have to wait until 19 to drink?

    Aussies mainly don’t go away for uni, though they may rent a flat. Think because of the size of our main cities – they are where most unis are and where most people live. I stayed at home until my parents moved interstate. Lol. Think I felt grown up when I had my babies. But that said, I was still immature for a long time. And still am, if truth be known.

    Oh, and I know and like the song. Sing it often when people say to act like a grown up.

    • There is lots of weirdness about the legal age of majority – it is 18 nationally, but each province sets its own drinking age (of 18 or 19). Of course 18-year-olds feel (perhaps rightly so) that if they can vote and serve in the armed forces, why can’t they drink? But high school students often graduate the June after their 18th birthday, so the school system probably doesn’t want even more hung-over students!

      I’m surprised the THOP song made is to AUS, but that makes me happy!

      • I listen to a govt owned indie/alternate radio station – well I used to when I was younger, that’s probably why I knew the song. Don’t know if it made it to the commercial airplay.

        We have students who are 18 at school. I think the problem with inappropriate use of all manner of substances or obviously suffering the after effects of a night on substances is actually more evident in younger students. The 18 year olds seem more contained and self-controlled. Maybe they are more adult? Lol

      • I know by the time I was 18, I had wised up a bit!

  7. Fiona

    I think that ‘competence over time’ is a huge factor in adulthood.

    It’s been the things that have caused irrevocable change accompanied by responsibility that have made me feel like a bone-fide adult. A divorce would be one of the biggest, no doubt. The death of my grandmother was a big one for me, with that feeling of “the end of an era” in our family. Raising a child for the long haul (not just the baby stage) has been another. Watching my parents age and become ever-so-slightly more dependent is another one.

  8. This is a tough one. I’m at the stage where I’m old enough to look back on myself at 18 (when I felt very much like an adult because I moved out, was responsible for my finances, school, car, etc.) and see how immature I was . . but I feel like at an adult now too, making sound decisions. When I’m 50, I’ll probably have better perspective on this 🙂

  9. Never heard of that song, it must have been a North American hit, not a British hit. I grew up fast, as I was engaged to be married at 18, married at 19, had ds at 20 and dd at 21. All by choice I may add, dh and I wanted to have the kids young so we weren’t too old when they left home, and we weren’t!!

  10. Lane

    I think starting professional school in my mid 20’s was a turning point, but I still did not have things like finances conquered then. I’ve been responsible for myself since 18, funding education was just not something my family could do. So it’s been important to me that my girls have no student debt. It does seem a cultural phenomenon that kids take longer to “gel” now; I call mine “emerging adults” at 22 and 25 as they rely on us for backup. That’s OK with me as they desire to be independent; it’s just a different world for them.

  11. It’s funny because at 16, I felt very grown up with my driver’s license and two jobs along with extra-curriculars. At 18, I felt very grown up having just moved out and paying for all of my bills while also housing my boyfriend and paying for his bills. At 19, I felt like a grown up when I got married and moved to a different city than our families. At 22 + 24 I felt like a grown up when I had one, then two kids. Now, I just feel like someone who never got to experience youth before choosing to grow up too soon. I’m definitely at the quarter-life crisis stage and wish I hadn’t been in such a rush to be a grown up!

  12. I felt grown up when I had to start cooking myself dinner (and buying ingredients and planning it) at 19. The first year at uni I was 18 and chose to live somewhere that prepared dinners (only).

    Then I felt grown up working a standard 40 hour work week in an office (in opposition to my 40 hours I did as a boarding supervisor with weird shifts and sleep overs).

    I then felt even more adult when I realised I had a mortgage (all by myself, not in a partnership) plus bills, and I could manage it all!

    I’m sure having children will be another HUGE learning curve, but interestingly, being the boss hasn’t really felt any different. I think I take to leadership/bosiness (:p) naturally!

  13. Hmmm, sometimes I still don’t feel grown up, especially when my father is disagreeing with me! I think being a mum made me feel like an adult, I had this tiny creature, totally dependent on me. I love your fake it till you make it plan, I had to do a lot of that when I first started teaching many years ago, hardly older than the kids I taught.

  14. I just realised I felt like an adult when I wasn’t scared of the dark and when I could enter my house, alone, when no one else was already home, after dark, and not feel scared. (And cruelly feel happy to have the house to myself for a moment.)

    Think that was in my late 30s.

  15. Pingback: Older, Worser | An Exacting Life

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